6 Easy Fabric Softener Substitutes To Make Your Laundry Healthier

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Did you know that your laundry can be clean but still not be healthy for you and your family? Chemicals used in things like fabric softener and dryer sheets could be causing your family more harm than good. So let’s talk about fabric softener substitutes so we can make your laundry healthier.

fabric softener substitute pin with a stack of clothes folded neatly

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Why I Started Using Fabric Softener Substitutes

I have to say, I was not always a fabric softener substitute person. I liked my fabric softener and when through a lot of smell tests to find the perfect one for my laundry.

But once I had kids, I started paying more attention to a lot of things. Like what was really in the food I was feeding my family, what sort of chemicals I should stop using around my kids when I clean, and how to make the clothing I was putting on their little bodies safer while still keeping it soft and comfortable.

That was 15 years ago. And I didn’t wise up right away…it was a process. But I have definitely been using natural alternatives to fabric softener for the last 11 years. And I have to say, the process was easy and painless. (or I would not have done it!)

What Does Fabric Softener Do?

Fabric softener was created back in the 1900’s to soften fabric after it was dyed since the dye would leave clothing feeling stiff and rough against the skin.  

Nowadays, fabric softener does a lot more than just soften your clothes.  Modern day fabric softeners are created to not only soften, but also stop static, reduce wrinkles, protect against colors fading, increase iron glide, and stop stains from setting.

And let me just say, there is probably at least one chemical extra in the fabric softener for each one of those “fabric softener features” that you are buying into.

fabric softener substitutes in blue bottle and white bottle next to folded towels and basket

What is Fabric Softener Made From?

Back in the 1900’s when fabric softener was first invented, it was made from detergent, water and a little olive oil.  Which probably made it pretty safe to use.

Unfortunately, with modern organic chemistry, those ingredients have turned into much more elaborate concoctions of man-made chemicals.

Conditioners and emulsifiers make up the bulk of the ingredients.  After that, things such as fragrance and color are added in order to please the consumer.  And last, there are preservatives to keep the product from going bad while it sits on the shelf.

Is Fabric Softener Really Necessary?

So that brings us to the question, is fabric softener necessary to add to our clothing?  

In a sense, fabric softener is necessary because nobody wants to wear stiff, wrinkly clothes. But as it turns out, you don’t actually have to use fabric softeners that were made in a laboratory in order to get that same soft, wrinkle free look and feel that you know and love.

There are plenty of fabric softeners that are natural that you can add to your laundry. 

Is Fabric Softener Bad For You?

In my own opinion, there are plenty of people in the world who use fabric softener and don’t seem to have any problems with it. I, on the other hand have had different experiences with fabric softener, like itching and eczema. 

Let’s just say that the less chemicals that are in something, the more comfortable I feel with putting it on my own body and my family’s body’s.

According to the EWG, most of the fabric softeners in the mainstream market get a “D” or an “F” for safety. (think grades in school…these are not good grades) 

And quite frankly, there were not many “A” category softeners on the list.

There are some pretty popular products that got all “D’s” though. So you may want to take a look at the grading scale to see where your product falls. 

Most of the “D” grade products caused things like asthma and respiratory problems.

The point to this article is just to make you aware that there are chemicals in fabric softener that could be making you or your family sick. And with a few simple changes, you can eliminate them for good.

So here are a few fabric softener alternatives to check out.

fabric softener substitutes in photo like vinegar with green cap and baking soda in a small dish and a lemon

What Can You Use In Place Of Fabric Softener

  1. Vinegar
  2. Wool Dryer Balls
  3. “A” list Fabric Softener

Related post: Dryer Sheet Alternatives That Are Safer For Your Family’s Clothes

Using Vinegar As A Fabric Softener Alternative

Did you know you can substitute fabric softener with vinegar?

Vinegar is super easy to use as a substitute for fabric softener. You use it exactly the same way you would a regular fabric softener. Just add it to the dispenser and wash your clothing as usual.

There is a whole science behind why vinegar works as a fabric softener that you can read more about.

fabric softener substitute wool dryer balls

Wool Dryer Balls Help Soften Fabric

Wool dryer balls are another natural alternative to fabric softener. Dryer balls work to soften your laundry and help them be wrinkle free when they come out of the dryer. They do this by essentially “beating” the wrinkles and stiffness out of your clothes.

Using wool dryer balls in your laundry is a great way to be eco-friendly and help you remove toxins from your laundry.

fabric softener substitute lady holding towels next to a dryer

Purchase “A” List Fabric Softener

Okay so maybe you are not ready to go completely fabric softener free yet. And that is, of course, fine.

But if you choose to continue to use fabric softener, try to make sure it is at least on the EWG “A” list.

Here are two substitutes for the fabric softener you are currently using:

Both of these fabric softeners have been given an “A” grade by the EWG.

Things That DO NOT Work As Fabric Softener Alternatives

I was very surprised to find many sites that claim there are a lot of fabric softener alternatives. There was one site that said there were 11! And while I wish that were true, I can tell you it is not. I have tried many of them and researched the others. So here are the things that DO NOT work as fabric softeners despite what other sites say.

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Baking Soda Does Not Work As A Fabric Softener Substitute

Despite popular belief, baking soda will not help soften your clothes. Because baking soda is basic (like detergent) it actually can enhance the effectiveness of your laundry detergent.

It will not, however, soften your clothes in any way. So don’t waste your time with this.

Epsom Salt Does Not Work As A Fabric Softener Alternative

Another popular belief is that you can add Epsom salt to the laundry to help soften the water and therefore soften your clothes.

But Epsom salts are made up of Magnesium which is actually one of the minerals that makes your water hard… not soft. So Epsom salt is not going to help you soften your clothes, or your water.

two green tennis balls for fabric softener substitute

Tennis Balls Can Work But There Is A Catch

If you are in a pinch, then sure you could use tennis balls. But you know that overwhelming synthetic rubber smell you get when you open a new can of tennis balls? Well, now imagine heating that up and letting your clothes roll around with it for an hour.

Needless to say, you could use the tennis balls, but they will make your clothes smell weird.

Soap Nuts Do Not Soften Clothes

I have used soap nuts. They are used as a way to clean clothes. Supposedly due to the fact that they are not actually cleaning your clothes with detergent, your clothes should come out of the laundry softer, but I did not see this happen.

So it is possible they will work for you, but they did not work for me as a fabric softener.

Aluminum Foil Balls Do Not Work As A Fabric Softener

Yes, you can ball them up just like a wool dryer ball. But, because of how light-weight they are, they don’t really have what it takes to “soften” your clothes like the heavier dry balls do.

Yes, they may help you laundry dry faster. And there is even a rumor that they can help reduce static in the winter (though I tried it and it didn’t work for me).

So if you try aluminum foil dryer balls, keep in mind they probably will not make your clothes softer. You also will have to throw them away at some point instead of being able to use them forever like you can with wool dryer balls.

hair conditioner bottle in front of a leaf for fabric softener alternative

Hair Conditioner As Fabric Softener

I have not tried this but did extensive research and found that everyone who has used it says it works. You just put some on a wet washcloth and throw it into the dryer with your wet laundry.

That being said, the reason I wrote this article to give you healthier fabric softener substitutes and I don’t feel like this is a good option due to the fact that the same things that are in regular fabric softeners are also in hair conditioner. (maybe that will be my next article!)

So this one is your call. If you are in a pinch and need something to soften your clothes it will work, but I recommend just using some vinegar. It is healthier, more eco-friendly, and cheaper.

Vegetable Glycerin As A Substitute For Fabric Softener

There are a lot of people out there claiming that vegetable glycerin softens their clothes. And honestly they may be right. But when I looked around the web for the actual scientific evidence for this, I did not find any.

I did find many scientific findings that stated glycerin is a really good stain remover. So this one is up to you if you want to try it or not.

How To Make Your Fabric Softener Substitute Smell Good

If you decide to use something like vinegar or dryer balls, then that fabric softener smell is going to be hard to come by unless you add it yourself.

One popular way to add essential oils is to add them directly to your dryer balls… But I do NOT recommend this because this method can sometimes leave oil spots on clothing and I have read recently that essential oils can easily catch fire in dryers due to their low spark point.  

A safer way to use essential oils is with an Essential Oil Spritzer.  Just fill up a spray bottle with water and add 5 – 10 drops of your favorite essential oil mixture. Then spray the mixture on your clothes when they come out of the dryer.

Then when you wash your clothes the next time, those essential oils will be washed off your clothes before they go into the dryer.

young living essential oils for adding scent to fabric softener substitutes

How To Make Your Clothes Smell Good Without Chemicals

Here is a great recipe you can use to make your clothes smell good when they come out of the dryer.

  • 16 ounces of water

Just mix water and essential oils and use as a spray on your clothes when they come out of the dryer. Be sure to shake the mixture up before using each time.

Healthier Laundry Doesn’t Have To Be Hard

Despite the convenience conventional fabric softeners give us, switching to healthier fabric softener alternatives doesn’t have to “take you to the cleaners”. Simple everyday household items can be used to help keep your laundry both soft and chemical free.

Happy Washing!


P.S. – Want to refer back to this post? Remember to Pin it!

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